Article 18 of the Constitution of India, 1950 talks about Abolition of Titles-
(1) No title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the State.
(2) No citizen of India shall accept any title from any foreign State.
(3) No person who is not a citizen of India shall, while he holds any office of profit or trust under the State, accept without the consent of the President any title from any foreign State.
(4) No person holding any office of profit or trust under the State shall, without the consent of the President, accept any present, emolument, or office of any kind from or under any foreign State.
Article 18(1) does away with both words. The State is forbidden from conferring titles to someone, whether a citizen or a non-citizen. Nonetheless, political and scientific categories are removed from the prohibition. Therefore, a university on a man of quality will offer title or distinction. Clause (2) forbids an Indian person from taking any title from a foreign State. Clause (3) forbids an individual from taking any title from any foreign State without the permission of the President, not being a citizen of India but holding some position of income or confidence under the State.
Clause (4) states that no person or non-citizen holding any income or trust position shall receive any gift or emolument or position of any sort from or under any foreign State without the permission of the President. Clauses (3 ) and ( 4) were introduced to ensure that a non-citizen stays obedient to the State, i.e. will not undertake a breach of the faith reposed in him.
A ‘title’ is anything that hangs like an appendage to one’s name (either a prefix or a suffix, for example, Sir, Nawab, Maharaja, etc.). A monarchy will not be making news and titular glories. It would go towards rendering social inclusion a reality. Nonetheless, the latest conferment of titles of “Bharat Ratna,” “Padma Vibhushan,” “Padma Shri,” etc. (introduced in 1954) is claimed not to be banned under Article 18, since they merely signify State appreciation of successful work by people in the different fields of operations. It should be noted that Article 18 does not grant any constitutional right yet places a limit on presidential and legislative authority. Therefore, the conferment of titles went against the constitutional concept of freedom to all people granted under Article 14.
The Supreme Court affirmed the legitimacy of national awards in Balaji Raghavan vs. UOI, but criticised the government for refusing to show caution in granting them. This claimed that the national decorations were not meant to be used as names and those that did so would be forfeiting the honour. In this situation, the petitioners protested the prizes being awarded on the basis that it was in violation of Article 18(1). We were of the opinion that the word ‘title’ should be granted the widest possible definition and magnitude in order to give force to the statutory purpose as the only exception to this provision in terms of military and academic distinctions has been made.
The Union Government’s (Respondents’) argument was that because the national decorations are not noble names and are not to be used as suffixes or prefixes, they are not banned under Article 18. Therefore, almost every nation in the world practices the tradition of honouring its residents for meritorious works. The court observed that the power to confer titles during British rule was being abused for imperialist purposes and to corrupt public life. In recent years, the granting of such awards is expected to promote nepotism, favouritism, bribery and even collusion, without any clear criteria and foolproof system of choosing.
Therefore, an extremely high standard for those awards should be prescribed, and the total number of such awards should not exceed 50 per year. “It is utterly important to practice certain discipline to protect the integrity of such honours,” said Ahmadi, a judge. In order to curb the abuse of this authority, the court recommended that the Prime Minister may select a high-level committee in coordination with the President who would ensure that the decorations were given only to worthy persons. In his independent yet overlapping decision, Justice Kuldip Singh indicated that the committee might comprise Lok Sabha’s Speaker, India’s Chief Justice, and the majority leader in the Lok Sabha.
Following this announcement, the Government of the Union named a ‘High Level Review Committee: chaired by the Vice-President, to evaluate the current rules and establish the requirements for the selection of individuals for ‘Padma awards’ in order to enhance appreciation for such awards. This Committee recommended setting up commissions at the state level to send suggestions to the Centre. The proposed names shall be checked by the Center, including the Cabinet Secretary, the Home Secretary, and the President of India Delegate, by a Commission. The finalized names will then be submitted to the office of the Prime Minister, and finally sent to the President.
This blog is written by Arvind Bhati, Lloyd Law College.
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